It’s Complicated

10326436_303815836450062_376544952_ndanah boyd‘s It’s Complicated (full PDF) is a book which seeks to change the way we view teenagers and their use of digital technology. Viewed as a vulnerable demographic, teens, it is commonly believed, need our protection to thrive. At the same time, many adults feel threatened by the boisterous, physical confidence that teens often exude. These forces combine to make many adults nervous of how, why, when and where teens use Internet-connected technology.

boyd, working from primary research, presents a very different and compelling view of teen technology consumption and use. Cleverly, she points to the many social and structural factors which lead teens to do what they do. For example, she argues that teens find social media so compelling because they have relatively few opportunities to socialise with peers face-to-face. In her view, the highly structured, timetabled and restricted lives of modern teens (think school, tuition, organise sports, lack of free play time, fear of strange danger, etc), dictated by adults, pigeon hole them into behaving in a way adults dislike .

Over the course of the book, boyd returns often to the theme that generally “the kids are alright”, whilst also highlighting some of the positives that come from teen engagement in social media. She astutely notes that often the kids who struggle with misuse of technology are those that struggle with other areas of their lives. This is much the same as adults who struggle with, say, gambling, suffering from some other difficulties from which gambling is simply a release. Ergo, technology is not the problem, but simply a symptom. The question then, is why overreact to the symptom, when we should be looking at the underlying human condition.

The book has certainly reinforced my existing beliefs in terms of not blocking technology use, but rather helping students to learn from their mistakes. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who works with, or has to parent, teenagers.

The book is broken down into the following chapters, which gives a good idea of the range of ideas covered:

  1. Identity
  2. Privacy
  3. Addition
  4. Danger
  5. Bullying
  6. Inequality
  7. Literacy
  8. Search For A Public Of Their Own

The following are two passages which really stood out in terms of capturing the spirit of the book:

2 thoughts on “It’s Complicated”

  1. I don’t know the book, though can see it’s worth taking at look at. However an initial thought, based on the second excerpt above, is that many (most?) adults do not themselves have the “skills and perspective to productively navigate the complications brought about by living in networked publics”, so that it is not easy to envision how they can inculcate these in ‘youth’. This position is the burden of Sherry Turkle’s recent contribution to this debate, Alone Together, which I find, through personal and professional experience, a compelling and credible claim.

    1. Toby, thanks for the comment. I agree with your point, but at least a lot of adults have a lifetime of experience and some common sense they can apply to new situations to make sense of this. But yes, it is new for everyone, and changing so quickly there are few experts. Nonetheless over reacting, being fearful and locking things down are responses that will simply push teens away, rather than drawing them into discussions from which they can learn. As with most wicked problems (thanks for the term ; ) there is no magic bullet here.

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